Below is a collection of materials previously posted here at rotation.org that we have collected into something of an "article" or "Science Workshop Manual." You are welcome to add your own insights.
What is the "Science" Workshop?
From a discussion originally posted by Neil MacQueen
"Science" is one of the teaching themes and techniques used in some Rotation Sunday Schools. Other workshop mediums include: Art, Video, Computer, Drama, Cooking, Games, Writing, Photography, etc.
We don't teach "science" in the Science Workshop. Rather, we use science-inspired demonstrations as "object lessons" to illustrate points in our Bible study.
Note: "Magic" tricks that demonstrate concepts are also object lessons. Of course, we're not teaching magic. Rather, the teacher/students are manipulating objects in entertaining ways to illustrate points.
The "Science" Workshop, properly named, would be the "Demonstration" Workshop, but it wouldn't sound as fun.
Children's sermons are the more familiar venue of "object lessons." Object lessons are lessons with actual objects or props that when manipulated help teach/illustrate something.
In children's sermons, the object is often simply used as a PROP, whereas, in the science workshop, the "prop" is sometimes a process, reaction, or change. Examples: Red water become clear, air expands, a strong thing becomes weak, a substance separates. **See the "Problem with Demonstrations" discussion below.
The scientific principles behind the change, while perhaps interesting, are only quickly mentioned, ...if at all.
Science "Experiments" or Demonstrations are usually led by the teacher, with the children being able to get in the act at some point. The "experiments" (objects) become illustrations for their points.
Good Science Workshop lesson plans will have more than one experiment or demonstration, simply because one experiment is too brief.
This kind of teaching method isn't new. What is rather new, however, is the way those of us in the Workshop Rotation Model design an entire room (workshop) and lesson activities around the THEME of "science" or "science lab" to give it a "wow" factor.
The "science" (demonstration) theme should inspire every part of the Science Workshop lesson, and not merely the main activity. How you open the class, how you read the scripture, how you reflect --all these are opportunities for demonstrations.
Some Rotation churches designate a classroom as their Science Workshop. Others create a Science Workshop for specific rotations, and thus, may only do a "science" activity themed Bible lesson plan a few times a year. This is due in part to the challenge of finding enough "science" experiments to fill out an entire year's worth of rotation lessons.
Other Rotation and traditional Sunday Schools use the "science" demonstration idea found here at rotation.org to spice up their Bible study in any of the other workshops.
Simply put, science experiments are demonstrations or illustrations using objects (props) to make a point or tell a story in a vivid way.
Another name for them is, "Object Lessons."
object lesson (noun)
1. A concrete illustration of a moral or principle.
2. A lesson taught by using a material object.
Science experiments typically involve observing materials as they interact with each other: simple chemicals (such as vinegar), magnets, water, flame, metals.
- The teacher poses a question
- predictions are made
- teacher or students act with materials
- a reaction or change is observed
- teacher and students then draw a conclusion or point
- and often the experiment is repeated for memory effect
The question, experiment, and conclusion are all fodder for discussion which the teacher ties into the principle in the Bible story they are trying to impress upon the kids.
"Science experiments" are an exciting concept to our students because they grab the student's attention. The vivid and hands-on nature of the experiments and materials create strong memories. (What we grab with the hand and eyes grabs our attention.)
Theme-ing this workshop as a "science" workshop tells us how to decorate and equip the classroom, and it tells us what kind of object lessons to look for ("science").
The "science" itself really isn't the point. Though it can be interesting and helpful to mention in passing, we are using the science as a means to an end. More on that in a moment.
The same is true for magic tricks. They focus our attention and add a 'wow' factor to a point. In effect, object lessons are a HOOK for information and memory to hang on.
The Potential BIG Problem of Science ("Object Lesson") Demonstrations
Younger children who think "concretely" may not fully grasp the metaphor of what a science experiment is trying to convey. For example, you show them a bottle of red water and turn it clear by adding a chemical. To the concrete thinker, Jesus apparently "adds something to us to make our sin disappear." That's misleading and bad theology. The phrase, "Jesus washes away our sin," is a METAPHOR. Jesus doesn't "wash" us in the literal sense. The teacher needs to help younger children understand the metaphor, and explain its limitations. Christians still sin, that's a fact, the difference is that Jesus doesn't judge us and abandon us because of our sins.
Whenever you use objects and demonstrations, the wise teacher asks "how can this be mis-interpreted" and makes sure they explain things clearly. Part of our job as Sunday School teachers is to help our students learn how to think metaphorically so that they can understand the Bible and the Church's language.
"PLAYING" UP THE SCIENCE
The "impressive" demonstrations in the Science Workshop often take place in the playful decor and trappings of "a science lab." Kids might wear labcoats and wear googles and gloves. Instead of pouring water from a glass, the teacher might use a beaker. ..etc.
We can create such labs because the lab stays set-up for several weeks, and the teacher stays the same each week. This is part of the attraction of teaching in the Rotation Model. We can create awesome dedicated spaces that don't have to be changed every week. They can accumulate all the trappings and supplies that excite children to want to learn and return.
Depending on the nature of the "experiment," it may be demonstrated by the teacher, and/or be done by the students. MOST experiments should be interactive, and a good science workshop lesson will have several demonstrations, not just one.
It is the nature of SOME experiments that they involve chemicals and reactions, and thus, a lab setting, with safety procedures and safety equipment are more than just theme, they are a necessity. See the "safety" section below.
EXPERIMENTS ARE LIKE ILLUSTRATIONS IN YOUR DISCUSSION
Science experiments can be like storytelling "props" which the teacher pulls out to demonstrate and hold the kids attention as they talk. Each demonstration provides an impressive visual that illustrates a point in the story.
For example, The teacher may be telling the story of the burning bush, and at their science table they will pause during the reading to IMPRESS upon the children's memories the idea of the burning bush by safely doing a controlled "alcohol burn" demonstration. You don't really care to teach about the properties of fire, rather, you're simply living your students with a visual impression upon which to hang your remarks.
Indeed, we often talk about scientists "PERFORMING" an experiment, and there's more truth in that casual description than we knew!
Recall your science class days and you will likely remember the teacher performing a main experiment and leading a discussion about it, then having the students perform their own experiments to round out the lesson.
It's not uncommon for the science experiment activity to happen after the Bible study is conducted, but as is the case in many workshops, the activity and the study can be intertwined. Think of how a storyteller works with props and you have the idea.
"Experiments" (demonstrations) can be introduced WHILE telling the story, and involve volunteers coming forward, or the entire class doing them at the same time. Ideally, a key experiment is something ALL the children can participate in.
Some teachers might do that demonstration AFTER the story is read, but if the teacher is prepared, it can be an impressive demonstration during the reading. Such "in-story" demonstrations can create a sense of anticipation among students. The key is for the teacher to be well-prepared and know when to pause to demonstrate, and when not to.
Experiments can also be done to kick-off the lesson. For example, you could do an experiment clean a tarnished penny and ask, "how does God clean the sin off of us?" This experiment can be done in any story which talks about sin.
Experiments can be done at the end of a lesson as reflection. Take for example, that same penny-cleaning experiment. You could give each student a shiny penny, have them confess their sins, then do the experiment which tarnishes pennies. Then finish with a prayer of pardon and do the experiment to untarnish the penny. This takes time, preparation, teacher experimentation, and set up, ---which is exactly why we have a Science Workshop!!
Experiments can go home. For example, you could have the children make a "penny kit" to take home and demonstrate the untarnishing idea to their siblings/family.
The Point is...
The point is that our science lessons should contain SEVERAL object lessons, rather than simply doing one short one in the middle of the lesson. "One and Done" experiments after AFTER the study leave you with a lot of time on your hands.
Like all our workshops, the Science Workshop should be more immersive. 5 minute art and software activities wouldn't pass muster. Neither should 5 minute "science" experiments.
Plan on demonstrating SEVERAL THINGS during your Bible study.
Some of them can be demonstrations by the teacher.
Some of them can be demonstrations performed by the class.
"SCIENCE" ISN'T THE POINT
The Science Workshop is NOT intended to talk about science very much.
For example, if you're teaching the story of Peter and Cornelius, and break into a demonstration about "attracting and repelling people to the Word," and then have the kids do the old "bar of soap stuck into the plate of water to repel the pepper" experiment, you wouldn't spend much time explaining "how" the science of surface tension works. It's more about creating a hands-on experience to hang your point on in the student's memory.
"SCIENCE" IS THE "RESOURCE POINTER" for this WORKSHOP
The word "SCIENCE" in the workshop title, is a RESOURCE POINTER that tells teachers and lesson writers where to look for the lesson activities. We have other workshops that can use object lessons, but in the Science Workshop, we look for science-related experiments, demonstrations, object lessons.
(The Art Workshop looks for art projects, the computer workshop looks for software, etc etc. This seems pretty obvious, but again, it just goes to show that the science in our workshop is the main activity, and not merely five minutes of the lesson plan.)
FINDING THE POINTS IN THE STORY TO DEMONSTRATE
This is often the most difficult part for the lesson writer and teacher. I recommend reading a lot of other people's lessons online both at this site and by googling "science experiments biblical principles." Doing so will give you a lot of good ideas
Most science experiments can be RE-PURPOSED for MANY stories. This is why it is a great idea to have that one "science teacher" who sticks with your lab throughout the year. They will develop a deep bag of tricks and understanding of how to work demonstrations into what is essentially their storytelling.
As you browse through various Science Workshop resources, one theme will jump out at you:
Science Experiment are particularly good at illustrating
theological topics and behaviors.
Sin, growth, change, turning, destroying, creating, attracting, repelling, cleaning, newness.
Almost all science experiments involve two things:
1. A material or object
2. A catalyst --the thing that will cause change.
The material or object can be likened to a character or idea in the Bible story you are studying. The catalyst can be likened to God, or the action of his Spirit or people.
The other thing that all experiments involve are HYPOTHESIS (Question), POSSIBLE OUTCOMES, and CONCLUSION (what you learned).
Let me give you an example:
In Biblical terms... Hypothesis: What happens when Peter starts to doubt? Conclusion: He sinks. Your experiment can be about what causes something to sink.
So for this experiment, I might have the kids construct paper boats, and guess how many rocks it will take to make them sink. We might get into the science of flotation a little bit because I want them to remember that "how you construct your boat (faith life) matters in relation to how much trouble (stormy waves) your faith can handle!
As a science teacher, we might explore various boat and rock possibilities and test those hypotheses, ---all the time with me reinforcing the key faith points throughout the experiments.
Here are a few questions to ask about your Bible story that might lead you to an experiment:
What THEOLOGICAL QUESTION is the story dealing with? "Sin" is an obvious one which has many "cleaning" experiments you can do with it.
Ask yourself... What science experiment could demonstrate that?
What's the major activity in the story? Are they wandering? Afraid? In Danger? Facing tough choices?
How can you demonstrate a negative outcome (such as the finless rocket experiment described below).
How can you demonstrate a POSITIVE OUTCOME of the story/concept? "What happens if you...."
What special ingredient does the experiment have in it that is a metaphor for something in the story?
WHERE TO LOOK for SCIENCE DEMONSTRATION RESOURCES
Where did I get the tarnished penny idea? From the internet. I simply googled 'tarnishing pennies" and "untarnishing" pennies. The ingredients are found on various sites, and I merely adapted them.
Here are some google searches you can perform:
"science experiments biblical principles"
"bible lesson science experiments"
Doing so revealed http://www.madaboutjesus.net/ --a science demonstration site by a Sunday School teacher.
Don't forget to google "OBJECT LESSONS" too! Many object lessons are one-step away from being a science experiment.
THE TEACHER IS KEY
You need a teacher who is good at talking and doing, and clearly making the point with the demonstration. They should be able to explain the demonstration's significance in the lesson in one clear sentence. Murky, convoluted explanations can turn your science workshop into a LAME workshop.
You need a teacher who will READ about experiments and know how to tweak them so that they APPLY to ANOTHER LESSON. This is the nature of a lot of the experiments, they demonstrate generic principles and need to be shaped to fit your lesson.
It is VERY important to TEST your experiments ahead of time. Sometimes, science experiments on the web don't work as advertised, or need tweaking.
It is also VERY important to TEST THE IDEA that the experiment is demonstrating!
See more on that below.
Some "experiments" can give the wrong impression or idea.
Science ideas that attempt to explain miracles should not be used. And sometimes, this happens inadvertently in the minds of our children.
Magic tricks, while fun, need to be carefully scrutinized so that God's power is not mistakenly associated with a magic trick. "How to turn Moses' stick into a snake" for example, should not be demonstrated by a magic trick.
Metaphors need to be carefully, and age-appropriately explained. There is a problem with the metaphor-experiement, "God is like this bowl of bleach....sins whiter than snow." First off, bleach is very caustic, and hurts if you get it on you. Does God hurt? No. SIN hurts.
Some "experiments" are lame, and run the risk of trivializing our point. Take for example, an experiment found at http://childrensministry.com/articles/god-of-wonders. The kids make a "tornado in a bottle" out of two 2-liter soda bottles (familiar experiment, no?). Then they talk about the devasting impact of tornados, and how God can take their fear from them. Problem: tornados in a bottle are COOL, not scary. And tornados are very scary.
I've seen that same 'experiment' idea used to demonstrate "Jesus Calms the Storm," and have to ask, "How does the student causing the tornado in the bottle and then stopping the shaking of the bottle demonstrated "Jesus stilling the storm?"
BY CONTRAST: In another place here at rotation.org, I wrote an Art lesson where the kids MAKE a small boat and put it in a sealed plastic jar filled with water to make a "boat-storm-shaker". Not science, but an explicit PROP that reminds them of a specific item in the story, -the boat.
Because some experiments involve the use of glass, flame, and chemicals, you will want to discuss these with your leaders, and make sure you have safety equipment and firstaid available. The Rotation Model doesn't shy away from going big, rather, it first looks for creative solutions.
Look online for ALTERNATIVE experiments. In many cases, teachers have come up with "SAFER" versions of many classic chemical reaction demonstrations.
So perhaps once a year you might need to take your experiment out into a parking lot or lawn. For example, launching rockets to demonstrate "having the right guidance" (3 fins) from "God, scripture, church" can be fantastically memorable (especially if you send one up with no fins/guidance to illustrate your point!). But you need to ensure safe practices.